Body By Science — the Review, Part 3: Goal Setting, and the Definition of “Fitness”

“I don’t want to get too comfortable; I’d rather stay hungry.”

~ Arnold Schwarzenegger

If you haven’t already, you can catch up on Part 1 and Part 2 of the Body By Science reviews.  Interesting comments and discussion followed each installment.

Arnold, back in the day

Arnold, back in the day

Back when I was a kid, about the time that I became completely enamored with the phenomena of physical culture, and fell in with the heady realization that I could affect — and, in fact, dramatically improve — my inherent athletic ability via weight training, my goals were twofold: (1) to look every bit like Arnold Schwarenegger, and (2) to play my (American) football position with the all skill, intensity and ferocity of my football heroes at the time — Ronnie Lott and Jack Tatum.

At that time, and with no one around to tell me otherwise (remember, this was the age of the Weider Empire’s, information “totalitarianism”), I set out to achieve my goals.  And I think if you’d ask anyone who knew me during that period of my life, they’d tell you that I was a young man who couldn’t be told “you can’t” or “it’s not possible”.

Come to think of it, though, not much has changed with me in that respect.  But I digress…

In any event, by the time I was ready to pack my bags and head off for collegiate sporting “fame and fortune”, I had figured a couple of things out via simple trial and error.  The first was that sheer size and raw strength had little to do with athletic success in disciplines that required speed and finesse, and the second was that training slow (as in rep speed) in the weight room — either in pursuit of hypertrophy or raw strength —  had the effect of making one slow(er) on the field of play.  At the time, I had neither the knowledge nor the vocabulary to express what it was that I saw lacking in this model; what I’d realized, of course, is that without the ability to express power — and more precisely, instantaneous power, coupled with a high power-to-bodyweight ratio — all is for naught, in the sporting world at least.

Well, thanks so much for the funky little trip down memory lane, you say, but just what the hell does this have to do with Dr. McGuff’s book, Body By Science?

Hmm, well, first up we’ve got the issue of goal setting.  Then, as a subset of that, we’ve got the issue of matching effective training protocols to one’s stated goals.  Now, you can re-make all of the mistakes that I made in my youthful exuberance (and complete and utter ignorance) by attempting to serve two “masters”, or you can choose to listen to the older, and I hope, somewhat wiser me.  What the older, wiser me would have told the younger, ignorant and headstrong me (not that I would have listened — but that’s another story), is that what I was attempting was, in the most simple of terms, a damned fool’s errand.  My two goals were, quite simply, physiological, polar opposites.

But before we travel any further down this road, though, and even prior to delving into the issue of goal setting, we need to first define a term that, on the outset, might not sound like it even needs defining.  “Fitness”, it seems — within the general populace, at least — is akin to the term “love” in that the two terms transcend definition; they just are.  Like art, we know it when we see it.  Well, maybe so for love; fitness, though, must be properly defined so that we can then speak using a common language.

I’d like to compare and contrast a couple of definitions for fitness from a pair of guys whose knowledge of the issue I respect.  First up is Dr. Doug McGuff, as stated in Body By Science:

Fitness: The bodily state of being physiologically capable of handling challenges above a resting threshold of activity.

Next up is Greg Glassman (of CrossFit), and his definition of the term (as paraphrased by yours truly):

Fitness: Work capacity expressed over broad times and modal domains.

Now, both of these definitions essentially cover the same ground, though I tend to use Glassman’s definition because it seems to lend itself more towards fitness in an athletic realm or expression. But that’s my personal preference. What each and every trainee really needs to do is to first define a goal within the realm of the definition of “fitness” (which ever definition you’re most comfortable with), with the realization held firmly in mind that goals — and therefore the proper path toward those goals — is a totally individual matter.  For instance, my personal, overriding goal, since the time I had my pre-collegiate “ah-hah” moment, has been to become more athletic — more powerful, and with a higher power-to-bodyweight ratio — and worry less about physical aesthetics.  As I get older, I’m quite sure I’ll modify this goal more toward aesthetics and overall health.  But for now, I’m all about chasing a higher power-to-bodyweight ratio (and to be more specific, power as expressed in the anaerobic realm), at the expense of, say, joint health.  This is not to say that I ignore joint health, but that I don’t mind pushing the envelop via the Olympic lifts, plyometrics, sprinting and such.   Of course, the downside of this is that I expose myself to an increased possibility of both acute and chronic (via repetitive trauma) injury.  This is the kind of give-and-take, the Yin-and-Yang, if you will, of settling on a goal; it’s absolutely imperative, though, that each trainee do so (along with constant re-assessment) to prevent the dreaded “spinning wheels” syndrome all too frequently witnessed in gyms throughout the world.  And don’t even get me going on goals vis-a-vis diet  🙂

In my mind, goal-setting is of the utmost importance vis-a-vis the Body By Science protocol, precisely because your stated goal will determine where, when, and how often you might employ the protocol.  And let me state here that I unequivocally agree with Dr. McGuff’s premise as revealed throughout his work in Body By Science.   Where Dr. McGuff and I may not see eye-to-eye is in the application of that protocol.  And that has everything to do with goals.  Let me explain.

Let’s, for the sake of argument, examine two trainees with very different goals.  Let’s say trainee #1 is a middle-aged office worker (male or female, doesn’t matter) who is a few pounds, or even good bit, overweight (“over fat”, I feel, is a better term), and who would like to get “in shape”.  Note that trainee #1 describes about 95% of all potential trainees.  Let’s say trainee #2 is a competitive rugby player.  The level of competition, for the purposes of this discussion, is irrelevant.  Two trainees, two totally different goals.  Now, will the Body By Science protocol work for both?  Yes, no doubt it will.  And for trainee #1, I’d dare say it’s probably all he (or she) will ever need.  Buy the book, read, heed, and apply the concepts and, coupled with an all-around Paleo lifestyle, this “95-percentile” trainee will be well on his or her way to a long, disease-free and productive life.  All of trainee #1’s goals can realistically be achieved by following this protocol (with, of course, some added “play” thrown in), and with the added bonus of having invested very little time in the acquisition of those goals.  For trainee #2, however, it’s a much different story.

Both Dr. McGuff and I agree that specific skills must be practiced at game speed and with game-weight implements.  In other words (and for instance), practicing a batting swing, or golf swing, say, with some sort of weighted resistance is not only useless, it’s detrimental.  Practicing these same movements with a lighter implement, however, (overspeed training) does have useful applications, though that protocol is not particularly germane to this discussion (though I do now have an idea for a new post).   Where Dr. McGuff and I might not see eye to eye is this: Dr. McGuff believes (from what I gather from reading BBS), that strength gains made via the BBS protocol can then be directly translated to measurable “on the field” performance increases by way of specific skills practice.  My thinking is that any strength increase realized (no matter the protocol) must first be “bridged” via appropriate strength-speed and speed-strength (power) work in order to produce a more effective (and, to a much greater degree of) “on the field” improvement.  At first glace, this might not seem such a wide gulf of opinion — and depending upon the stated goal of the trainee, it’s not.  However, the more one’s goals shift toward the “application” or “athletic” realms, the gulf widens, as I would contend that the BBS protocol(s), if used at all within an overall training scheme of this nature, would become only a marginalized addition to the overall scheme; relegated, you might say, to the outside fringes of the overall training maco-cycle.  Still a useful application, no doubt; another valuable tool in the trainee’s (and smart trainer’s) toolbox.  In keeping with this analogy, though, one must remember that the handle of a crecsent wrench makes for a poor hammer substitute.  It’s the skilled mechanic who utilizes the correct tool for the job at hand.

Hypertrophy is another matter entire, a matter into which I’ll delve in the next installment of this series.

In health,


33 responses to “Body By Science — the Review, Part 3: Goal Setting, and the Definition of “Fitness”

  1. Keith,

    You’ve written some amazing posts before……..but this one takes the cake!!! (or maybe we should start saying “steak”)

    As a former college soccer player, I have to say that your sentence “However, the more one’s goals shift toward the “application” or “athletic” realms, the gulf widens, ”
    has to be imho “experienced to be understood.


    • Marc,
      Thanks for the kind words.

      Yeah, I think we can all agree that there is always a certain “cost” to be paid for “progress”. We can train smart, and to a certain extent, mitigate those costs up and to the point of diminished returns. But then, I guess it’s up to each individual to define “diminished returns” on his own terms.

      AT Double-Duce,
      Without digging too deep a hole here (and this could be the subject of a stand-alone post), but for the purely muscular contribution to the overall strength equation, yes, I believe the BBS protocol is spot-on. Note that strength, though is only one component of the all-important (imho) power-to-bodyweight ratio, and that the muscular contribution is only a portion of what determines overall strength. Other factors here are CNS activation and efficiencies and proprioceptive efficiency, neither of which (again, imho) the BBS protocol addresses. Thus the need, in the more athletically inclined, to include some more power oriented work.

      Aesthetics is a whole other goat to rope. I’ll tackle that in my next installment of the BBS review.

  2. I have only scratched the surface reading BBS, but it seems like you agree, to a certain extent with the theory, just not, perhaps, the application of it, as prescribed, to an athlete in order to achieve those athletic goals. Otherwise, to you, it sounds right on. Right?

    So, *aesthetically* speaking, how far do you think BBS could get someone (assuming the right diet)? From “She has a nice figure” to “Damn, she’s hot” to “First Place, Figure Athlete 2009?” Or something else if your choice isn’t captured in my lovely quotations. And, in getting there, would they still be ready to handle the challenges above threshold activity? I’m assuming that answer its yes.

    Or maybe you will get to this in another post in which case you can say “be patient, yjit.” (yjit – Young Jedi in Training, of course)

  3. Great Post

    I haven’t read BBS, but I have seen the youtube videos of Dr. McGuff working out. Holy shades of Mike Mentzer circa 1974 Batman!

    Your analyses is, as usual, spot on.

    • Bender,
      On the whole, BBS is a very good read and a great addition to one’s fitness library. All programs have inherent limitations, and no program can address every physiological need (imho); all are no more than tools with inherent, applicable limitations. The trick is in being the “master mechanic”, i.e., to know which tool to use in each particular training situation.

  4. I think that in athletics the neural aspect really dominates over the muscular aspect. How many muscle fibres can be recruited by the motor neurons, the height and depth of the action pulse, reflex action, etc. If your strength training is dumbing down the peripheral nervous system then it’s not going to help athletic performance a bit.

    • Robert,
      I agree; attending a power and/or Oly lifting meet will prove this to anyone who doubts the notion. And my prediction is that optimizing CNS activation will be the “new frontier” in sports training.

  5. Excellent post! I wish I could convince many of my “overfat” triathlon friends to drop the cardio and do something like BBS, and THEN move over to sport specific work. But BBS and other fat loss tools (HIIT) are harder than long, slow cardio.

    • Indeed, Jessica. And it’s next to impossible to watch CNN or read the Wall Street Journal while engaging in some serious HIIT 🙂

  6. Keith,

    Excellent articulation of a core training/”fitness” dilemma. I’m 39 and no longer a competitive athlete, but I can’t let go of the “idea” of myself as an athlete (though I should say, I was never elite). I probably do more high-impact stuff than I should at my age, and suffer the (thankfully, usually mild) consequences of acute trauma. My chiropractor argues that these traumas, although relatively quickly resolved right now, are nonetheless accruing as a debt that will come due eventually as chronic injury. I’m thinking some re-balancing may be in order (as I nurse my latest minor injury). I haven’t read BBS, but I plan to, and perhaps it will tilt me in a new direction.

    On a more general note — HUGE (and overdue) thanks to you for a consistently thoughtful, intelligent, and VERY well-written blog. I’ve been reading it for many months now, and deeply appreciate the contributions you’ve made to my learning about fitness and nutrition.

    • Thanks for the good words, Mark. Glad you’ve enjoyed the blog. And I know what you mean about not being able to shake the “idea” of being an athlete. Hell, I still consider myself getting ready for “next season” 🙂

  7. Keith,
    Thank you so much for your blog. I am an avid reader for the past 5 months, and using your techniques in conjunction with a Paleo style diet has helped me to lose over 50 pounds and regain much vitality.
    When I lose motivation, I find it again with your writing. I wish you the best.

  8. Keith (and all),

    Thanks for the ongoing interest in, and discussion of Body by Science.

    Keith, you have done a very good job of articulating the difference between your viewpoints and my own, I don’t think I could state them any better. I will elaborate somewhat on my viewpoint.

    First, I think Mr. Glassman’s definintion is not much different than mine. Mine is actually a good bit broader, because I feel I must acknowledge the very broad continuum of specific metabolic adaptations than can be had with basic fitness. What Glassman’s definition seems to imply is that by training across different specific adaptations (broad time and modal domains) that you can have broader specific fitness. This may not be entirely true. When you commit to a specific point on the metabolic continuum, you must sacrifice adaptations on the other aspects of that continuum. With general strength and metabolic conditioning you CAN specialize and quickly adapt to a given skill set and point on the metabolic continuum as required by that specific activity.

    I do not believe their as any “gulf” that needs to be “bridged” by any speed-strength or strength-speed work. When I tried to find any definition of speed-strength or its mirror image twin, I could not find a formal definition of what it is. Rather than trying to “bridge” an imaginary “gulf”, I think an athlete is better served by simply landing on the shore of the sport he wishes to express his fitness in and begin practicing the skills of that sport as specifically as possible. For those that think I may have no appreciation for the athletic experiencee, I have been a professional BMX racer (a very explosive sprint/power sport).

    I think those that gravitate toward this notion are pulled that way by observing what other professional athletes are doing or what they have experienced in their prior athletic training regimines. This is a selection bias of the highest order of magnitude. Once you are at this level of athletics, and the genetic cream of the crop has been picked by the talent scouts, anything that is done can appear successful. Remember, despite all of the romantasizing of coaching lore in the movies, it is the talent scout that builds winning teams.

    A recent article in the Journal of Strength and Conditioning research (2003 May;17(2):368-73 underscores my sentiments. It surveyed 321 Division I strength and conditioning coaches and found…”The majority indicated that they used a periodization protocol (93%) utilizing multiple sets (97%), plyometrics (90%), explosive movements (88%),and olympic lifts (85%). Respondents tend to rely on sources of information that may not be defined as scientific, as evidenced by the low priority given to peer-reviewed literature. Respondents also tend to employ the methods they utilized as athletes. Reliance on these sources may not take advantage of advances made through scientific research in exercise physiology, biomechanics, and more specifically in the area of strength and conditioning.”

    With regard to CNS activation, this can be trained very well and very specifically by actually performing the skill set of the sport in question. There are some aspects of CNS activation that are simply reflex arcs that cannot be trained, or may actually be extinguished by training (just the way a gag reflex can be extinguished by repeated activation-like a sword swallower). A recent article in the Journal of Sports Medicine a Physical Fitness (2009 Mar;49:35-43) titled: “The effects of a plyometric training program on the latency time of the quadriceps femoris and gastrocnemius short-latency responses.” concludes…”The non-significant changes in the latency time of the quadriceps femoris and gastrocnemius SLRs seen in the training group suggest that the performance improvements following a four-week plyometric training program are not mediated by changes in the latency time of the short-latency stretch reflex.” In other words the improvements were not due to CNS activation, but more likely due to tapping and strengthening fast-twitch fibers…something that could be achieved with a much safer protocol.

    Currently (and I will try to find data to support this), there are probably more athletes who injure themselves or end their careers as a result of training-related injuries than there are athletes with competition-related injuries.

    Just because we might give up some of the training folklore that we came up with as athletes does not in any way mean we “have to stop thinking of ourselves as athletes”. Rather, we can become athletes who are thinking.

    Doug McGuff

    • Doug,
      Thanks for the thoughtful and intelligent response. I wonder, do you feel that there is any value to be added toward enhancing overall athleticism by “bridging” strength work with a power-based modality (let’s use properly administered and performed Oly lifts, for the sake of discussion) as one moves up an imaginary continuum from say biking, to sprinting, to baseball and on into “explosive” contact sports such as rugby, football, wrestling, and MMA? IMHO, the Oly lifts and their variants provide (again, if performed w/good form and w/the dose administered properly) an explosive, change-of-direction, and force-absorption training stimulus that just cannot be duplicated, much less enhanced, otherwise. I do see your point w/ a sport such as BMX not needing much more of a “bridge” other than practicing the sport itself. As an example, my son is a baseball player, and, as such, I don’t see anything to be gained by having him perform the Oly lifts. Now, it may be that a football player performing, say, a power clean, is actually engaged in his sport (i.e., explosion, immediate change-of-direction under load and absorption of force), albeit in a “controlled” manner and atmosphere. In other words, it may be that repeated repetitions of power cleans trains the body for the rigors of that sport in a more efficient (read, injury-wise) way than the same amount of time spent actually engaged in the sport.

  9. Keith,

    IMO there would be no value added to using the olympic lifts for sports that are both explosive and contact in nature. By the way, BMX has much more explosive contact than one would realize, pulling to manual a jump whose face is taller than you stand at 30 mph qualifies as both explosive and contact, as does landing after clearing a 25 foot gap. The impact forces from this are probably as high as two linemen running into each other.

    With proper strength and conditioning, I believe you are as well prepared for explosive contact as you are going to get, and the performance improvement from practicing that sport is as good as you are going to get. Any additional explosive training just adds insult to injury in terms of opportunity for acute injury and accumulation of long-term wear-and-tear damage.

    I must admit though, this is just my opinion. We will never really know the isolated contribution of Oly lifts to injury or performance improvement because the athletes that use them ALSO practice their sport, and it becomes very difficult to un-muddy the water as to what contributed to what (except for those injuries that occur in the weight room, as we know immediately what to blame those on).

    Again, I also must admit there is a huge component of “Mikey likes it” to this whole discussion. If one cannot overcome a person’s reservations about what I (or you) advocate, then it will be very hard to produce results. One must have confidence in their training regimine. Even with the most powerful medications, 40% of the therapeutic effect is accounted for by placebo effect.

    Doug McGuff

  10. I’d like to relate my experience for everyone to demonstrate a real-world example of what Doug is talking about.

    My sport is road cycling. At the professional level it is very explosive. The ability to generate and maintain high levels of power will determine your degree of success. Guys like Lance Armstrong, Fabian Cancellera, and Mark Cavendish are great examples of guys that can produce and maintain ridiculous levels of power. In fact, nearly all professionals train using “power” instead of heart rate, through devices on their bikes that record wattage.

    7 years ago at the age of 29, I decided to get back into cycling after a 6 year break. Through luck I met a very successful cyclist/personal trainer that had 25+ years experience with HIT and superslow. He offered to work me out. Since I was no stranger to the weight room, and had been lifting with high intensity (muscle failure) since high school, I took him up on it.

    The workout was devastating, and a part of it appealed to the masochistic nature all successful competitive cyclists probably have. From there, we designed a thorough training program to having me in peak condition for the Pro I/II State Criterium Championships in Florida 6 months later. Literally every day was planned for 6 months. The training included a once weekly strength training workout and several other days of endurance, sprint, and interval work on the bike. This is exactly what Doug is talking about: separating strength and skill conditioning.

    6 months later… and after taking 6 years off… I went on to win the State Championship. My level of conditioning was at a level I had never experienced. The next year, I was even better. Interestingly enough, I looked at my cycling training thru “HIT lenses” and trimmed away everything I deemed to be excess, such as ‘recovery rides,’ and the like. Just as my weight training went down from 1 hour to 10 minutes, my cycling training went down from 15 hours a week to just 5 or 6. Amazing.

    The point of all of this is slow rep speeds had no negative effect on my power. In fact, my sprint and my ability to jump gaps became my strongest skills.

    It’s been 5 years now since I’ve raced but I still do my HIT workouts. Why? Because detailed record keeping shows my strength is as high as ever, my workout takes 10 minutes, and I’ve never been hurt doing it.

    ~ Patrick

    • Patrick,
      Interesting commentary; thanks for sharing your thoughts and experiences. And let me just say, before I play devil’s advocate, here, that Dr. McGuff and I agree on most everything; the points we disagree on, in my opinion, would boil-down to hair-splitting issues. As a matter of fact, training for sports like road cycling, velodrome sprinting, Keirin racing and like are exactly the types of applications in which I believe the BBS (or super-slow HIIT if you will) is most successfully applied. *As an aside, Dr. McGuff corrected me in my last mention of “cycling” — BMX is (and I agree) a different sporting animal* In fact, if I were training someone in your shoes, I wouldn’t do anything (focusing on weight training here) different. Depending on what equipment one has access to, would, in my mind, alter the strength modality acquisition somewhat (i.e., machines vs. free weights, exercise selection, tempo, etc.), but the basic idea would remain in tact. In the gym, I would have no problem having my son (a baseball player) train side-by-side with you. Now, I might monitor him more closely for any deficiencies in hip extension power, and train that specifically (and conventionally) if need be, but other that that, not much would be different. Where Doug and I don’t agree is in the efficient training of explosive and combative athletes, where the absorption of force and the instantaneous re-direction under extreme load is paramount. In these applications the trade-off in cumulative, bodily wear-and-tear is, imho, worth it because the sport itself is even more so (possibly, if one is not prepared by the aforementioned) damaging. I would also lump track-and-field “throwers” (discus, hammer, shot, etc.), and Olympic bobsledders, for example, in this category, btw.

      And, too, we have a whole category of freaks out there who just enjoy performing these various power exercises. Some guys like to hunt and fish; I like to throw iron around in the gym and sprint and lift heavy things from the floor and chunk heavy things over my head for distance 🙂 These activities allow me to blow-off some psychological steam, if you will, and, as a side benefit, I’ve been the recipient of some pretty decent body composition rewards from doing so over the past 30-ish years (damn that sounds like a long time!). But this, of course, brings us back around full circle to the “big questions”: (1) would I have the same body now had I followed the BBS protocol for the last 30-ish years (assuming the same diet), and (2) would I have been as athletic on the playing field (back in the day)?

  11. Diet is, no doubt, more than half the battle. Dr. McGuff, would you agree with that?

    I could imagine a study – which would have to be very controlled and long-term, I suppose – that could test this theory. You get 100 subjects training for football. Put half on BBS/McGuff’s and half on a more Oly/power modality type system. See what happens in terms of output. You can record the base level before starting so that natural talent is at least somewhat taken into account — unfortunately we can’t control everything in the universe, or even most things. But I’m no scientist, maybe the results wouldn’t be worth much. Plus, who would do this? Who would pay for this? Could you get a large enough sample to mean anything? *shrug* (and not a power-shrug 😉

    • AT22,
      A SS/HIIT case study, of sorts, has already been attempted at the University of Pittsburgh and, at the professional level, with the Houston Texans organization. The results were disastrous, to say the least. Now, it must be noted that correlation does not imply causation, and especially so in these two cases. What we don’t know (and may never fully know) are the other underlying factors, here — were the SS/HIIT protocols applied properly? What else was in the training regimen? Where these teams just bad to the core and populated with “lacking” (relatively speaking” athletes to begin with? It’s tough to say — and even tougher to isolate the reasons behind bad, on the field, performance. SS/HIIT may have well just been the sacrificial goat in each case. Dr. McGuff may be able to shed some light on these two specific cases, as I’m sure he’s been hit (pardon the pun) with these “cases against” arguments before, vis-a-vis, the practical, sporting applications/transferability of SS/HIIT to the field of play.

  12. Keith,

    Thanks for your response. I understand what you are saying. Unfortunately, I’m not 6’4 and 230lbs. I’m not an NFL lineman, nor do I compete in MMA. Therefore, the anticipated response for a larger built man would be to question how effective my workout would be for him. After all, we don’t look similar. But remember: I didn’t pick cycling, cycling picked me. Similarly, Chuck Liddell didn’t pick MMA, it picked him. In my opinion how you develop your strength is irrelevant, as long as it doesn’t hurt you in the process. The most important factor is intensity. I’ve always had great results in the gym, because I know how to suffer. Even when I was doing higher volume training, I used spotters, and generally went to failure.

    It’s my observation that most people don’t have the internal fortitude to really suffer. This is why most people can’t stick with even a basic workout plan for more than a few weeks. But it also filters down to the so-called ‘athlete.’ With superslow or HIT, the record keeping leaves no place to hide. It’s like every workout is your personal Olympics. You did 580 for 70 seconds last week on the leg press. Great. This week you need 75 seconds with perfect form. You simply can’t fake your way through it especially when it’s 5 or 6 exercises back to back with maximum effort. I would think the scope of such a weekly challenge would light a fire underneath an elite level athlete, but it usually doesn’t. That is because most of them excel at their sport because of great genetics. Why should they suffer so much, when they’re winning doing their normal workout? I’m not aware of the two ‘disastrous studies’ you mentioned, Keith, but I would bet the farm what I’ve outlined has something to do with it.

    From my observation, it’s the same with really muscular guys. Why train so hard, when you can get by with 90% effort and still be big? It’s simple psychology, and one has to look no further than the widespread use of steroids to see this ‘shortcut’ mentality.

    So in summary, I wouldn’t train much differently if I was a professional football player. I would lay it all on the line in my strength training workout, and then be 100% coachable for my football drills.

    ~ Patrick

    • Great insight, Patrick. And I think you’re spot-on with the “suffering” observation. And you’re right, too, in the notion that, for the BBS protocol to be effective, one has to push over and beyond the “suffering” hurdle. Road cyclists offer a great case and point — they might not be the best all-around athletes in the mix, but damn if they can’t endure some special forces-like levels of suffering. I’ve always thought that Lance Armstrong beat cancer in large part because of his ability to push through the suffering, and (and not at all paradoxically, either), that cancer enabled him to be a better cyclist because it raised his already legendary pain tolerance even that much higher.

      And FWIW, I’m fully on board with the notion of the sport choosing the athlete; my curiosity, though lay more in how best to train each particular athlete once that vetting process has taken place. I’ve got an upcoming post that will discuss “peering into the graveyard”, so to speak.

      And once again, thanks for the great discussion, insight and personal testimonial, Patrick. Much, much, much can be learned via such intelligent give and take.

      • Something else that I’ve thought about is how near Doug’s BBS recipe resembles Jay Schroeder’s Long Duration Isolation theory. There is definitely something to these “close cousin” methodologies.

  13. To All,

    Great (and respectful) discussion from all sides. I won’t have much to add here other than to say that in my experience not only does the sport pick the athlete, training protocols also pick athletes. In general, I must admit that I have had great difficulty in getting the most gifted athletes to stick with the training protocol I advocate. Even those that have produced objectively positive results tend to move on to the programs favored by their similarly gifted peers.

    With the possession of large, thick joints and a mesomorphic structure, I think there is just too much positive feedback from the joy of being able to move some heavy iron in an explosive manner. Further, I think the naturally muscular and powerful subject experiences significant negative feedback from the deep fatigue and inroad (weakening) that occurs with a HIT protocol, not to mention the 2 or 3 days of being “below the baseline”.

    For those who are less gifted, the HIT method is actually a necessity in any attempt to “level the playing field” with the more gifted athlete. Such an athlete cannot understand why the truly gifted will not avail themselves of something that has brought themselves to a new level. The gifted athlete sees no sense in suffering so much to feel hammered during and after the workout.

    Every once in a while there will be the gifted athlete who will gravitate toward HIT and be held up as the “poster child” for that protocol…but even us HIT geeks have to admit this is the exception rather than the rule.

    In the end we must all find our own way. At times you think the two camps were the Isralies and Palestinians…but it is just lifting weights. If we can get folks to eat paleo (90% of the battle IMO) and perform high intensity exercise, then we’ve come light-years.

    Doug McGuff

  14. If there is a positive response due to speed-strength and strength-speed work could it be due to somehow stimulating an increase in nerve myelination over and above what would be done normally by just practicing the movement?

    From the article “How to Grow a Super-Athlete”

    “To the surprise of many neurologists, it turns out this electrical tape is quietly interacting with the neurons. Through a mechanism that Fields and his research team described in a 2006 paper in the journal Neuron, the little sausages of myelin get thicker when the nerve is repeatedly stimulated. The thicker the myelin gets, the better it insulates and the faster and more accurately the signals travel. As Fields puts it, “The signals have to travel at the right speed, arrive at the right time, and myelination is the brain’s way of controlling that speed.” ”


    • David,
      Thanks for bringing this issue up. Chad Waterbury has written extensively on this issue, and, to my knowledge, has done more to advance this notion (myelin thickening/cns proficiency) within the S & C and athletic community than anyone writing today. In my opinion, this is the “new frontier” of athletic training, and I think we, as an S & C community, are just in the infancy of understanding this phenomenon, and how best to positively manipulate it.

      I believe that increased rate coding coupled with a properly administered dose/recovery has much to do with the success that trainees have with Jay Schroeder’s Long Duration Isolation exercises/protocols; if I had to guess, I’d say the same holds true (maybe to a lesser extent), to the success of the SS/HIIT protocols (or the BBS methodology).

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